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1498On The Earliest Markan Narrative

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    Jan 15, 2009
      To: Crosstalk
      Cc: GMark, GPG
      In Response To: Several Personal Inquiries
      On: The Earliest Markan Narrative
      From: Bruce

      It may help if I answer at large, and thus for others who may be interested,
      several questions which have arisen in response to my earlier invitation on
      this list (and on GMark, to which this is being cross-posted; it is also
      being cross-posted to Synoptic, where earlier versions of some of these
      ideas were shared), to take part in an effort currently in progress to
      reconstruct in detail the whole accretional structure of Mark.

      1. It hurts to say so, but no, we can't realistically accommodate spectators
      in the little NT working group. It is tempting to include them, and I
      greatly appreciate their interest, but classroom experience teaches us that
      silent auditors quickly inhibit the work of nonsilent participants. The
      sense of being watched is unnerving, or something like that. Our working
      group expects to be making small progress reports from time to time (on
      Crosstalk and/or what seem to be other appropriate fora), and I hope this
      will provide something in the way of spectator interest for those not
      regularly involved. Responses to such reports as they are posted, to me or
      to the list in question, will always be most welcome. Feedback is what we
      are looking for, in order to draw on the widest possible range of expertise
      and experience as we attempt to accomplish a task which is beyond the
      ability of any one of those currently involved, myself very much included.
      We look forward to feedback of that kind, and tender in advance our thanks
      to those willing to provide it.

      2. Requests to look at the working reconstruction of Mark Layer 1 are in a
      slightly different category: a sort of middle zone between passive E-list
      spectatorship and full seminar participation. Such a zone would consist of
      interested individuals who have seen the current reconstruction, and are
      willing to share their suggestions and criticisms with me, for possible
      secondary sharing with the working group.

      The only thing I want to emphasize beforehand is this: according to our best
      philological judgement, Mark is indeed accretional, and as a stratified
      text, whose successive strata were laid down at successively later times, it
      does indeed witness to several stages in the evolution of what finally
      crystallized as Christianity. Details are still under study, but that much
      seems pretty certain. The early layers of this sequence turn out to be
      doctrinally prior to the Christianity of Paul; that is, they do not include
      the Resurrection Doctrine. And the earliest layer of all (as E P Sanders
      long ago warned us to expect) shows Jesus not operating as a Christian of
      any sort, Pauline or other, but wholly within the boundaries of Jewish
      belief and expectation. Christianity itself came later, as Luke seems to
      have been in some sense aware; see again Acts 11:26.

      Specifically, as we see it, the earliest Jesus which can be philologically
      recovered from Mark, itself the earliest of the consecutive witnesses to
      Jesus, was Messianic rather than Apocalyptic. It shows Jesus as concerned
      with exactly what Blind Bartimaeus at one and, and Pontius Pilate at the
      other, SAID he was concerned with, namely, the return of God, and thus of
      political sovereignty, to Israel.

      How would one frame a narrative which, like the Passion Narrative recently
      excavated by Adela Yarbro Collins (in her 2007 commentary, page 819), ends
      with Jesus's death and seeming defeat? What would be the point of it? What
      would be the *use* of it, for any still remaining followers of Jesus? Those
      are the questions. I think they can be answered, and our little group is in
      the process of answering them, as best it can with the time and talent
      currently available to it. But the idea of Christianity without the
      Resurrection, which so enraged Paul when he encountered it in Corinth, is no
      less unwelcome to many people at the present time. We have no wish to upset
      anyone, and we do not seek to overturn any convictions to the contrary. We
      *do* invite comment by those who are prepared to see Christianity as
      evolving, rather than as defined from the beginning, and who are prepared to
      consider a proposal about what amounts to a pre-Christian Jesus. But we
      don't want to lure anyone into exposure to a hypothesis which can only be
      distressing to them.

      On those terms, which are meant to avoid offense and minimize static, I will
      be glad to share, with suitably interested parties, the URL at which the
      current reconstruction of Mark Layer 1 may be found. Would such persons
      contact me privately, or renew to me privately their earlier expression of
      interest in that option?

      Thanks to everyone for their patience with these qualifications, in an
      inevitably delicate matter. I hope the qualifications may serve as an aid to
      interest, while avoiding irritation to those whose interests lie in other


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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